Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Oscars 2017 Recap: And the Winner is…or is it?

Oscars 2017 Recap: And the Winner is…or is it?

I am glad I took a couple of days to process what had happened at the end of the Oscars 2017 telecast. My initial reaction was one of shock and anger. The film I believe to be the best of the year (La La Land) had won Best Picture. And then it hadn’t. Instead it went to Moonlight which didn’t figure into my Top Ten films this year, though it did crack my Top 25. In fact, out of the nine nominated films Moonlight ranked last for me. I found the pacing too slow and I actually had a hard time staying awake while watching it. But if I had written a recap on Monday morning I would have done Moonlight a disservice. I would have focused on the debacle that took place instead of the historical importance of this film.

Moonlight became the first film to win Best Picture that has a LGBT community member at the center of its story. It’s the second film to win Best Picture that was directed by an African-American; joining Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. It may not have been the best made film of the year but it was without question the most culturally important. Moonlight depicts a young black man coming to terms with his sexuality while subtly proclaiming “I will be who I am meant to be”. Like Omar in The Wire, the character of Little/Chiron/Black grows into a contradiction of the stereotype the world has come to know of a gay man. That is the real beauty of the film…shattering the stereotype and opening the world up to acceptance. In my younger more ignorant days, I was admittedly homophobic. I never actively discriminated against homosexuals but I didn’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same gender. Then I saw Brokeback Mountain. That film opened my eyes and taught me that you love who you love; it is not a choice. I hope that Moonlight will have the same effect on a new generation. I think that it will because I believe in the power of film. I believe in the power of storytelling.

It’s a shame that Moonlight didn’t get its full moment in the sun. Its triumph will always be linked to the epic fail of the accounting firm of PwC. The partner whose only job was to correctly hand out envelopes was too busy tweeting to fully focus on the task at hand. He will almost certainly be fired and PwC may lose its contract with the Academy Awards, as well as other accounts. But that won’t make up for robbing Moonlight’s cast and crew of that initial rush of hearing their film’s name called out as Best Picture. Thank goodness for the grace and humility of La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz. His thoughtfulness created an unforgettable moment of comradery when he announced the true winner and said, “I’m going to be really thrilled to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.” I, in turn, will give credit where credit is due.

Now that I’ve said my piece on the Best Picture controversy, I want to simply go over some of my favorite moments of the night…
Justin Timberlake’s opening performance – The Oscars are typically a little stuffy so it was nice to see the evening start off with some energy. JT’s ‘song of the summer’ brought the crowd to their feet before they had to sit around for four hours.

Legendary Duos – Charlize Theron & Shirley MacLaine, Javier Bardem & Meryl Streep, Faye Dunaway & Warren Beatty were awesome pairings but my absolute favorite of the night was Seth Rogen & Michael J. Fox. Rogen’s words were synonymous with my childhood; I grew up with the DeLorean and Back to the Future.

Cravalho powers through – 16-year-old Auli’I Cravalho’s performance of Moana’s nominated song “How Far I’ll Go” was outstanding. Not only were her vocals phenomenal, she got hit in the head with a flag and kept her composure.

Tour Group – The bit might have gone on too long but the tourists truly reveled in the moment. The looks on their faces were priceless. Imagine getting to meet all those A-listers on the front row, being married by Denzel Washington, kissing Meryl Streep’s hand, and touching Mahershala Ali’s statuette…all in the span of five minutes. Gary from Chicago sure made the most of it.

In Memoriam – This year we lost way too many talented people. An impeccable rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” by Sara Bareilles set the mood while we said our last goodbyes to the likes of Willy Wonka and Princess Leia.

The Academy spreads the love – As much as I wanted La La Land to dominate the night, I did enjoy seeing many different films take home hardware. Only four films won multiple Oscars (La La Land with 6, Moonlight 3, Hacksaw Ridge 2, and Manchester by the Sea 2). Arrival, Fences, The Jungle Book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Suicide Squad, and Zootopia all won a single trophy.

La La Land takes 7…okay 6 – Despite having the rug pulled out from under it on the evening’s final award; La La Land still had a pretty solid night. The film’s greatest attributes were rewarded with wins for Best Director, Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Score, and Song. Of course I would have loved to see it win Best Picture but 6 wins and 14 nominations is still an incredible feat. It will go down as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema.

Thank you all for taking the time to read my thoughts on the Oscars and this year’s films. Movie award season is my favorite time of year; that and March Madness (Go Tar Heels!). I’ll be putting together my Top Ten lists for this past year in film. All too often some great films go without any awards recognition (cough, cough, Green Room). Be on the lookout for those in the coming weeks.

©2017 Geek Homeworld Productions. Written by Entertainment Correspondent Scott Schreiber, who has a background in film history and theory. If you wish to contact Scott you can do so at:  schreiberfilm@gmail.com

Check out our Geek Homeworld Podcast!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Oscars 2017: What the Night Will Bring



Oscars 2017: What the Night Will Bring

There are two major questions heading into Sunday night’s telecast of the 89th Academy Awards.

(1) Can La La Land make history by winning the most statuettes ever in one night? The modern day musical has already tied the record for most nominations by a single film with 14; joining All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). Now can it break the record of 11 wins held by Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)?

(2) What kind of statement will Hollywood make following last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy coupled with this year’s political turmoil? The Academy has nominated 7 non-white actors this year in what seems to be a direct answer to the previous two years’ glaring omissions. My hope is that the public won’t see this as propaganda because each nominee deserves to be there. Also, President Trump’s travel ban has prevented several foreign filmmakers from being able to attend the night’s festivities. Will the Academy take a defiant stand and award these nominees in absentee?
In my predictions here, I hope to answer these questions and if nothing else help you win your office Oscar pool. Please note that I have seen every film nominated aside from the foreign and short films. Let’s start with the technical awards and build our way up to the big one: Best Picture.

Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Who I would vote for: Doctor Strange
I would be very tempted to vote for Kubo due to the monumental effort it took to craft this stop motion masterpiece but ultimately Doctor Strange wins out. The psychedelic M.C. Escher inspired action sequences are too incredible to deny.
Who will win: The Jungle Book
This entire film is practically filmed with a little boy in front of a green screen and you can’t even tell. This technical achievement also led to $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. This is the category where the Academy rewards the blockbuster.


Best Sound Editing
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Who I would vote for: Deepwater Horizon
Upon walking out of the theater after seeing Deepwater Horizon the first thing I said was, “Wow, that’s going to win for Best Sound.” Seeing it in an IMAX Theater certainly enhanced the experience but the special attention to detail of every little pop and ping was extraordinary.
Who will win: Hacksaw Ridge
This could go to Arrival or La La Land but I believe this will be Hacksaw Ridge’s consolation prize after losing in every other category it’s nominated for. The sound effects during the battle sequences put you right in the fight.

Best Sound Mixing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Who I would vote for: La La Land
In the same vein as 2012’s Les Miserables, La La Land captures the majority of its’ musical performances live instead of dubbing in post-production. Watch Emma Stone’s performance in the audition scene and tell me that would be better if done in post. Nope, you can’t.
Who will win: La La Land
For the same reason as stated above. The live sound recording adds to the realism of the film. No other film comes close in this category.


Best Original Song
Jim: The James Foley Story – “The Empty Chair”
La La Land – “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
La La Land – “City of Stars”
Moana – “How Far I’ll Go”
Trolls – “Can’t Stop the Feeling”

Who I would vote for: La La Land – “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
It’s the climax of the film and easily the most affecting scene. It’s the moment where Emma Stone wins her Oscar. La La Land has to win for Best Song since it has at least 5 original songs that could have been nominated. In my opinion, this one is the most deserving.
Who will win: La La Land – “City of Stars”
This song has been winning at every previous award ceremony. It is the spine of the story being performed throughout the entire film and it’s probably the one you’re humming when walking out of the theater.

Best Original Score
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Who I would vote for: La La Land
Are you sensing a pattern here? Justin Hurwitz has created a score that is timeless. Modern day musicals written directly for the screen just aren’t made in this day and age. It’s an astonishing accomplishment.
Who will win: La La Land
In any other year the scores for Jackie or Moonlight would be shoo-ins to win. They just have the misfortune of being released in the same year as the musical that reinvigorated its’ genre.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Who I would vote for: Suicide Squad
Two words: Killer Croc. His makeup work alone deserves the statuette. Then you add in the iconic images of Harley Quinn and The Joker. This superhero movie may have been a flop with the critics but they can’t take anything away from its makeup department.
Who will win: Star Trek Beyond
It was a better reviewed film than Suicide Squad so I see Hollywood voting its’ way instead. Jaylah’s makeup is fantastic. I had no idea it was the same actress from The Kingsman until well after seeing the film. Make it so, Academy.


Best Costume Design
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Who I would vote for: La La Land
This is a toss-up between La La Land and Jackie. The costumers on Jackie captured the former First Lady’s style perfectly but La La Land’s use of color ultimately does it for me. I keep thinking of the women’s dresses during “Someone in the Crowd” and how perfectly they work within the scene.
Who will win: La La Land
Mary Zophres is a well-respected costumer and she will finally get her trophy. Through the costumes you see Emma Stone’s Mia transform from a nobody to a star and let’s not forget that awesome 80’s ensemble Ryan Gosling gets to wear during the pool party scene.

Best Production Design
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

Who I would vote for: La La Land
Arrival is a close second but the look and feel of La La Land is one of its’ many strong attributes. From the character’s respective apartments to the clubs to the fantasy sequences, the production design team nailed it to perfection.
Who will win: La La Land
As I just said, the look and feel of La La Land is second to none. The design of the epilogue scene is enough to bring the Oscar home. The production design sucks you into this world of dreamers and makes you want to stay forever.

Best Film Editing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

Who I would vote for: Arrival
Without giving away any spoilers I will say that Arrival is so wonderfully crafted that the twist in the story truly blew me away. The key to this stunning story is in the editing. If you haven’t seen it, watch it and you’ll understand what I’m saying. It’s magnificent.
Who will win: La La Land
The pacing of this film is flawless and that’s why it will win for editing. The aforementioned epilogue scene is the prime example. Whatever film wins Best Editing typically wins Best Picture. You do the math.

Best Cinematography
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Who I would vote for: La La Land
No other film has such daring camera choreography. The opening song and dance is done in one virtually continuous uncut take and is a master class in how to open a film musical. And it’s not the only scene in the film done this way.
Who will win: La La Land
I could just repeat what I just wrote but I will add that the look of the film pays perfect homage to some classic films of the past such as An American in Paris and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. If you’re not a film historian you might not pick up on that but believe me, the Academy will.


For the following categories I will just pick who I think will win based off of other award ceremonies and some enlightened reading. Unlike all the other categories, I have not seen the majority of these films but will try to help you win your office Oscar pool nonetheless. It’s usually a safe bet to pick the socially and politically relevant films.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman – The film’s director (from Iran) has decided not to attend the ceremony as a protest against President Trump’s travel ban. The ever-so liberal Hollywood establishment will likely reward his decision with a statuette. If not, look for Toni Erdmann to win.

Best Live Action Short: Ennemis Interieurs – Algerian terrorism reaches France. A timely subject that is sure to garner votes. Silent Nights could sneak in, as well, with its themes involving a refugee in an interracial love affair.

Best Documentary Feature: 13th – Ava DuVernay’s exploration of the U.S. prison system and racial inequality will narrowly beat out O.J.: Made in America largely due to O.J.’s 5-part, 7 hour and 47 minute run time. How many Academy members have the time to watch that? No matter how riveting it may be.

Best Documentary Short: Joe’s Violin – A Holocaust survivor affects the life of a young girl equals Oscar bait. Couple that with the fact that 2 other nominated shorts about the crisis in Syria will likely cancel each other out.

Best Animated Short: Piper – I have actually seen this one as it played before Moana in the theaters. The Academy loves Disney shorts especially those by Pixar. Write this one in with pen not pencil.

Now on to the biggest awards of the evening:

Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Who I would vote for: Moana
I love Kubo but Moana’s songs and pacing win the day. It joins the pantheon of instant classic Disney animated musicals. Sure the theme of “follow your heart” is a little overdone but the filmmakers found a way to make it fresh while diving into a previously unexplored culture.
Who will win: Zootopia
It has cleaned up at every previous awards ceremony other than the BAFTAs (who gave it to Kubo). This clever parable about defeating fear mongers is exactly the type of film the Academy loves to make a statement with. Zootopia is for kids and adults alike while also conveying a social message.


Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Who I would vote for: Arrival
Again, no spoilers. The way this story comes together is seamless and breathtaking. The fact that this film was based on a short story and expanded to a feature length film is an impressive feat.
Who will win: Moonlight
This, to me, is somewhat of a political statement made by the Academy. I, personally, was a little bored with this film as I felt the pacing was very slow. But I cannot deny the power of the story of a young black man struggling with his sexual identity within a culture that has historically ostracized homosexuals. That important message is not lost on me and it won’t be lost on the Academy voters.

Best Original Screenplay
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Who I would vote for: Hell or High Water
This script is a wonderful throwback to the westerns of old while still existing in the timeframe of today. The social commentary on what the banks are doing to honest hardworking Americans is evident from the first frame of the film. And no other film had more memorable one-liners like “So, what dontcha’ want” and “lord of the plains”.
Who will win: Manchester by the Sea
Just like Hacksaw Ridge in the Sound Editing category I believe this will be a consolation prize as Manchester’s only win of the night. I wasn’t as impressed as other critics with the story. The characters don’t grow much but maybe that’s the point. The script does explore grief like I’ve never seen on screen before and perhaps that’s why it will win.


Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Who I would vote for: Viola Davis
Williams is a close second but just doesn’t have enough screen time to catch Davis’s gut-wrenching performance. As the matriarch who makes countless sacrifices for her family, Davis explodes through the screen and claims the throne as “best snot crier” in the history of cinema.
Who will win: Viola Davis
She’s long deserved this award. She held her own with Streep and Adams in Doubt. She easily had the best performance in The Help and had to sit by and watch Octavia Spencer take home the gold. Not this time. This one is a sure thing; another one you can bet the house on.


Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Who I would vote for: Dev Patel
I would vote for Ben Foster in Hell or High Water if he were nominated but unfortunately he’s not. Michael Shannon is also one of my favorite actors working today but I have to go with Patel. When he finally comes on screen after 30 minutes or so of Lion, he carries the movie the rest of way. No other performance is as beautiful and affecting than his.
Who will win: Mahershala Ali
Here is where the Academy makes its biggest political statement by rewarding an African-American Muslim the Oscar. Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m a fan of Ali (especially his work in House of Cards) but his win will be more symbolic than accurate. This will be Hollywood’s way of saying “take that, Mr. Trump”. And I’m sure his acceptance speech will be one of the most memorable of the night.
Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Who I would vote for: Emma Stone
For a while I was dead set on Portman but I am now locked in with Stone. She captured what it means to be a fighter, a survivor and above all else a dreamer. At a time when I’ve shifted my career course and finally decided to pursue filmmaking her performance resonated with me. “Here’s to the ones who dream.”
Who will win: Emma Stone
She has steamrolled her way through the latest award shows so it now seems like a foregone conclusion that she will win. In her speech at the SAG Awards she said she was honored to be an actor playing an actor being recognized by other actors. Get used to it Emma; you’ve got one more time to be honored this awards season.


Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Who I would vote for: Ryan Gosling
I’ve seen Affleck brood through an entire movie before. I’ve seen Denzel deliver powerful lines with gusto before. I’ve never seen Gosling as a song and dance man. He learned how to play the piano just before shooting began and John Legend said he was jealous of how quickly he picked it up. And I’m glad he did because I couldn’t imagine any other actor in this role. His charm, wit and soul fit perfectly into the character of Seb.
Who will win: Denzel Washington
It seemed like Affleck was a sure thing to take home this award but the resurfacing of allegations of sexual harassment have derailed his campaign. After winning the SAG award Washington is now the front runner. Between the two I prefer Washington’s performance anyway. If Denzel does win, he will join Walter Brennan, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Daniel Day-Lewis in the “3 Oscars Club”. When it comes to actors, only Katharine Hepburn has more, with 4.
Best Director
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Who I would vote for: Damien Chazelle
His vision is unique. Who would dare make an original motion picture musical in 2017? They just aren’t backed by the studios because they don’t make money. Well, this one has made $125 million as it has touched audiences young and old. When I typically think of directors I think of shot choices but directing is much more than that. Chazelle worked in sync with every department to create this modern day gem.
Who will win: Damien Chazelle
He’s won every other prestigious award including the Director’s Guild Award. It’s a sure thing for Chazelle to be recognized by the Academy as Best Director as he has helped push the brand of Hollywood as a positive entity.
Best Picture
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Who I would vote for: La La Land
My #1 film of the year usually excels at every facet of filmmaking: directing, camera, script, acting, production design, costume, sound, etc. Last year that was Mad Max: Fury Road and sadly it did not win. This year, without question that film is La La Land. Every element of the film comes together with fluidity and impeccable style. I could watch this film over and over. It just doesn’t have any flaws. Furthermore, I am truly inspired by this film. It makes me want to pursue my dreams and never give up no matter what obstacle awaits me.

Who will win: La La Land
It is rare that my #1 film of the year matches up with the Academy’s Best Picture winner. The last time it happened was No Country for Old Men in 2007. Well, it looks like it will happen again this year. The only film that stands in La La Land’s way would be Moonlight but I just don’t see it happening. Being nominated in a record-tying 14 categories is just too much to ignore. If the Academy is going to nominate a film that many times it will likely win the biggest prize of the night. Hollywood should just use this tagline to promote its brand for the foreseeable future, “This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting!” Thank you, Mr. Chazelle, for those words to live by.


So, I believe that answers the big questions looming over the 89th Academy Awards. There will be plenty of opportunities for Hollywood to make their political statements especially with Best Foreign Language Film, Documentary Feature and the acting categories. After two years of all-white acting nominees I am predicting 3 African-American winners. Movies take a long time to make so it’s not like these particular films were created just to quell the backlash of #OscarsSoWhite. I hope the world will see these accomplishments as progress instead of tokenism because the recipients are unquestionably worthy of their statuettes.

As for La La Land’s attempt at the record books I believe it will fall just short of tying the record of 11 by winning 10 Oscars. I’ll be rooting for it to win 12 but I just don’t think it’s possible. Since it is nominated twice for Best Song the film would have to win Best Sound Editing and then pull off an upset in either Best Actor or Best Original Screenplay to have a chance at the record. I hope it happens but it’s a long shot. Damien Chazelle and company will have to settle for the round number of 10. What a disappointing evening!

Enjoy the festivities and I hope you win your Oscar pool! “I’ll see you in the movies.”

©2017 Geek Homeworld Productions. Written by Entertainment Correspondent Scott Schreiber, who has a background in film history and theory. If you wish to contact Scott you can do so at:  schreiberfilm@gmail.com

Check out our Geek Homeworld Podcast!